Opinion: Jacinda Ardern – The Messiah, or just a crafty politician? – Newshub

Posted: August 26, 2021 at 3:24 am

In February, as the housing market was spiralling out of control, Ardern had a recommendation for property investors: "What we want them to think about is: 'How can you contribute to the productive economy in New Zealand?' By going into an overheated housing market, it makes it so much worse for others and you won't necessarily get the long-term benefits that we'd like you to get."

Only a politician detached from worldly reality would imagine this advice might help deter an investor from buying another dwelling in a sizzling market.

The same month, she was quizzed in Parliament by Act leader David Seymour about why the police programme to combat gangs was labelled "Operation Tauwhiro". He pointed out "tauwhiro" means "to tend or care for" and asked the Prime Minister if she actually believed "that violent criminals who sell P need to be tended and cared for".

Ardern replied: "If we want to make a difference to the young people who join gangs in New Zealand we have to demonstrate that there are alternatives for them that they can find a place to grow their potential without joining criminal organisations."

These responses reflect a belief in redemption that often appears hopelessly naive in a politician. Ardern sees the potential for good in everyone - which is no doubt a large part of her appeal - but the flipside is a reluctance to acknowledge the worst in people.

Consequently, she seemed surprised by public outrage at her personally approving $2.75 million for a drugs programme run by Mongrel Mob members.

Her unrealpolitik caught the eye of the Spectator, which mocked Ardern for offering one of the "Nine Worst Responses to Afghanistan's Fall" from around the world after the Taliban's victory:

"New Zealand's Prime Minister has 'implored' Taliban leaders to uphold human rights, telling a press conference: 'What we want to see is women and girls being able to access work and education' - which she insightfully noted 'are things that have traditionally not been available to them where there has been governance by the Taliban.'"

The writer added: "The Taliban's response is as yet unknown."

As another wag put it: "Ardern asks water to stop being wet."

Another unmistakable sign of her otherworldliness can be detected in her dismissing opponents' criticisms as "politicking" or "playing politics" over issues such as Maori co-governance or the management of Covid. This is an extraordinary stance for a politician to take towards other politicians debating policy but Ardern positions herself as floating above the cut-and-thrust of politics.

Consequently, she is very keen not to be seen to be beset by common human frailties such as dishonesty, arrogance or vanity.

When asked during one of the leaders' debates in 2017, "Is it possible to survive in politics without lying?", she not only said it was but claimed she'd "never told a lie in politics".

Only someone determined to convince people she is preternaturally saintly would have so outrageously denied political reality - and human nature. Bill English, a devout Catholic who wasn't nearly as ready to bend the truth out of shape as she was, couldn't in all honesty agree.

Humility is also essential to "brand Jacinda". In May last year, a memo from her office suggested ministers need not agree to be interviewed given how popular the government's Covid measures had been. John Campbell, who interviewed the Prime Minister, said he at first thought it could be a sign of "arrogance" but decided it was more likely that she simply didn't have confidence in her ministers.

Ardern's reaction showed she was more sensitive to a suggestion she might be arrogant than a question about her ministers' competence. She made a point of addressing that issue even though Campbell had dismissed it.

"Arrogance is just, I hope, something people would see as not in my nature," she said plaintively.

She mostly keeps her vanity under wraps - not least because she casts herself as a humble servant of the people - but slip-ups are perhaps inevitable for a woman from Morrinsville who has been internationally canonised for her crisis management and lauded as "the world's most effective leader".

Addressing the UN in September 2019, she made the extraordinary admission that she saw herself carrying the nation's burdens on her shoulders single-handedly. In her speech she mentioned a young Muslim boy who asked her to keep him safe after the mosque massacres. "My fear is, that as a leader of a proudly independent nation, this is one thing I cannot achieve alone. Not anymore."

The fact she very capably handles the quotidian tasks of a prime minister - such as explaining vaccination rollout figures - while also wearing the mantle of a secular saint makes her an extremely difficult target for her political opponents to get a fix on.

If she is caught out, she often switches to what she probably imagines is "going high", as Michelle Obama put it, however absurd that might be.

When David Seymour asked Ardern in late June in Parliament if she ever thought she would be reduced to saying "Hey, we're doing better than Africa" in terms of vaccinations, she replied: "When it comes to global health and wellbeing in a global pandemic, how countries like those in Africa are performing is relevant to us. And, as a country who has a stake in the wellbeing of all nations, including developing ones, I imagine that's a consideration most New Zealanders would be proud to take."

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Opinion: Jacinda Ardern - The Messiah, or just a crafty politician? - Newshub

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